Interview with Guy Immega

[The following interview was published in Science Fiction Writers Sampler 2014]

Why do you write ‘hard’ science fiction?

Although ‘hard’ doesn’t mean difficult, it requires deep science knowledge to write. And, to loosely paraphrase David Brin, all literature is a tiny subset of hard SF. Most of my stories are hard SF, which serves as vehicle for new ideas. Which isn’t to say that other forms of storytelling aren’t worthwhile and huge fun—and perhaps travel an easier road to success for a writer.

There are two fundamental types of human history: oscillating (repeating) and monotonic (always increasing). Oscillating history endlessly repeats itself in cycles: love/hate, war/peace, birth/death, conquest/defeat, slavery/freedom, religion/doubt, nobility/psychopathy, empires/anarchy, etc. Nobody can say anything original about recycled universal themes. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. [Ecclesiastes 1:9]. However, such oscillations provide the foundations of drama. Storytelling, setting, character, and conflict are central to reader interest. 

Monotonic history never repeats itself, which makes it interesting. It is the history of science and technology, continuously advancing and ever more complex. Inexorable technological advances are the most common include the wheel, the cannon and the laser; sooner or later someone would have invented them. The cumulative effect of monotonic history can lead to a singularity, such as the advent of agriculture or the industrial revolution, where human society changes forever.  Some predict that the next singularity will result from computers outstripping human intelligence. 

The world of technology is further subdivided into inevitable inventions and “big ideas.” Big idea technologies are not inevitable and can arise from the imagination of a single individual; these include the pyramids of Egypt, the atomic bomb and the Moon landings. Perhaps the largest and most important big idea project in history is ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor – a design which, if successful, could power human civilization for thousands of years. Most big idea projects involve thousands of workers, many years of work and the resources of nations. They are often of questionable utility but are monuments to human achievement.  

As with biological evolution, some inventions are ad hoc, arbitrary and unique: happy accidents. The Post-it Note may be an example. A 3M scientist wanted to mark pages in a hymnbook, without hurting the paper. He knew of a failed glue that would not hold well. He made sticky notes that became a successful product. If he hadn't done this, it might never have happened. However, it’s hard to argue that Post-it notes changed civilization. If they were really important, someone else would have invented them.

Cumulative advances in science and technology – monotonic history – determine the human condition in the moment. The horse collar (1000 AD) was the foundation of European civilization. Cannons made fortifications obsolete. Sailing ships allowed the world to be conquered. The printing press solidified and expanded knowledge. The telegraph enabled the USA to consolidate political control of most of North America. Nuclear war could end civilization. The Internet may homogenize world culture. Fossil fuels are warming global climate. Synthetic DNA allows the creation of new life. You get the idea.

Of course, oscillating and monotonic histories are enmeshed. The introduction of new technology (a monotonic “step function”) can reset the cycles of history in a different direction. The task of hard SF is to speculate on monotonic change. My novel The Eye of the Beholder explores the proper implementation of global climate control, which could triple the habitable land on Earth. It’s like discovering two new planets in our own Solar System that we can live on!

The Eye of the Beholder is an alien contact story. What are the unique themes in the novel?

The premise of the novel is that alien invaders would not directly attack Earth. Instead, they would try to control L1, the neutral-gravity parasol orbit between the sun and the Earth, the point through which all life-giving sunlight must pass. The space opera novel describes how to use solar-sailing mirrors at L1 and in Earth orbit to control global climate.

Aliens are fun because, Fermi’s paradox aside, many people believe that they must exist somewhere in our vast galaxy. The challenge is to create unique, believable aliens. In this novel, the Psyche aliens have evolved biological radio. Radio’s large bandwidth (compared to audio) inspired a new codec theory of language, allowing cross-species communications. The story employs aesthetics — a universal appreciation of beauty — as a culture contact medium. The novel also features an innovative conception of a lunar colony, where we meet the aliens face-to-face.

Have you planned sequels to The Eye of the Beholder?

Yes, the first sequel will present a practical engineering solution for global climate control. If human civilization survives the next millennium, we will control the climate of Earth. Of course, this generates huge geopolitical conflicts, which provide much of the drama in the sequel.

A second sequel will retell the first two novels from an alien POV, with a contrary perspective and a hidden agenda.

What other writing projects are you working on?

My novella, “Super-Earth Mother” was published in the Extreme Planets anthology, available from Amazon. A favorable review encouraged me to novelize this story and other exoplanet colonization attempts.

I’m also working on a nonfiction book, Dream Boat, which is the history of the Auguste Piccard submarine, the largest non-military submarine in the world. It was built in the Swiss Alps and sailed (yes, with an actual mast and sail) to the Caribbean, where it was used to hunt for $4 billion in Spanish bullion off the coast of Colombia.

© G.B. Immega 2014